Monday, October 1, 2012

Шашлик and Chocolate Chip Cookies

As it turns out, his whole living-out-of-country game is more difficult than it looks. I had a brief conversation with Paaaaaa yesterday and he termed it "culture shock." My head hates that idea. I've been to Russia before. I knew what to expect. Right???

But here's the thing: I've never spent so LONG in Russia. In fact, the longest I've spent out of country was 10 weeks and that time was divided between Italy and Israel, making both visits lengthy enough to not feel touristy but short enough to not actually acclimate.

So here I am, arrived at the 4-week mark, and contemplating on how one is to "acclimate," whatever that actually means.

This week we had our first вечеринка (which somehow seems so much fancier than a plain old party) and I think the food pretty much sums up my feelings. As it normally does. The Russian spread was fabulous, of course! The main dish was shashlik, which despite its Armenian/Georgian origination has been adopted by the Russians. It's basically our equivalent of BBQ...meat marinated in an amazing blend of herbs and spices and then grilled over some coals. We had an authentic Armenian make our marinade so it was totally legit.

Homemade Shashlik Moscow

Homemade Shaslik Moscow

I had to bring something to the party. It's not only polite but basically a prerequisite here that you not show up empty-handed. Well, my number two stress relief: baking. (Number 1 is running, just for the record.) Anyone who knows me, can testify as to my love for cookies. Which they don't really have in this country, as it turns out. So I decided it was time to make some. Finding the right ingredients turned out to be no easy task. For anyone in Moscow who's looking, you can find what we call brown sugar at the Глобус гурме (Globus gurmye). I hit about about 5 other stores without any luck and was thrilled to find some!

I struck out when it came to vanilla. In the end I found some vanilla-flavored sugar which had to work as a substitute. I also found recipes to make my own, vodka style, but that takes a few months and I wasn't willing to wait. Also impossible, chocolate chips. Tragic, right?!? I bought a couple of chocolate bars to crush up, but then happened on the brilliant idea of M&M's. Complete. Success.

Chocolate Chip Cookies Moscow

Well...almost. They were tasty and my friends were fans, which was important to me. I'm trying to love their culture, but I'd also love for them to appreciate mine. That being said, they weren't quite the same. The flour is a bit different, but something was also slightly off in the butter/sugar mixture. Luckily, I have some time left here to figure it out. Don't worry. I will.

Shashlik and chocolate chip cookies. An unlikely pair, but it's what I'm trying to make work. It's such an interesting process. The more I invest here, in the language and the people, the more I find myself appreciating and longing for my own country. I heard real American English in the stolovaya (cafeteria) here at the Bolshoi and few things have sounded more beautiful. I was ridiculously completely made my afternoon. And I love Russian! I love that I am working in Russian, I'm studying Russian in Russian, and I'm surrounded by it all day. But when my Russian teacher one day asked me (in a private session, for the record) if I thought English was beautiful, I got a little teary. I've always loved the English language and literature, but I don't know that I've thought of it as a stunningly beautiful language. I do now.

In the past I've always been proud of the fact that I adapt well and even manage to blend in when traveling. The day I take my 6'0" self to China I realize that will end completely. But in this edition of Moscow, I stand divided. Half of my heart wants only shashlik in order to be certain that I don't miss out on a moment of appreciation for this wonderful country and its culture. But the other half is happily embracing, perhaps even clinging to my American sensibilities. And while that oftentimes creates some inner turmoil, it's allowing me to see both Moscow and myself with a new perspective.

Perhaps in the striking juxtaposition of an unlikely pair, we can actually more fully discover and appreciate individual flavors. It's what I'm aiming for.


  1. Well written. Your intentions were completely clear and I totally get the feeling. We miss you!

  2. Great choice! Cookies always win over a crowd, provided you can find the right ingredients of course. I'm in France and finding brown sugar her is a nightmare as well... and do you know where you have to buy baking soda? At the pharmacy! Isn't that the oddest thing!
    Best of luck shaking off any lingering homesickness :)

  3. Beautiful, Steph. See you soon to speak some beautiful words together! K


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